Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Beauty & Necessity of Escapism In Books


Hello everyone, today I thought I'd write about something I've been very interested in for quite a while - escapism.

Escapism, as defined in the Oxford Dictionary is "the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy". As someone who has struggled with anxiety since I was about 14, finding an escape through a book, a musical or a film when the world got a bit too much was an incredible alleviator. And in the current climate, where my thoughts are racing about results day, university, and then compounded by the ongoing pandemic and some nasty fallings out; I am reminded of the beautiful escape reading once gave me.


What is escapism?


Escapism, as both a literary and psychological theory is absolutely fascinating, and something we have relied upon for pretty much our entire existence as a species. From mural paintings of erotic brothel scenes found in the ruins of Pompeii, to the Great Depression where a surge in escapist films, books and music occurred. Escapism purely and simply allowed people to leave the struggles and suffering of everyday life, in favour of entering a new world which had the sole purpose of uplifting and entertaining.

That is not to suggest that every piece of art or literature is escapist, as most works are created with the intent to inspire directed thought, or provide a commentary. One can find an escape in something, but that doesn't necessarily make it a piece of escapist work in the traditional idea - am I making any sense? To further explain, "escapist fiction" is usually the books that are treated with a bit of condescension. It's the fun, "light-weight" and typically fantasy novels that are treated as the opposite of the far more "virtuous and real literature" that deals with serious topics and ideas. Because you know, if you choose to write about dragons or magical realms you're not really putting any hard work or thought into it are you? Get those Lord of the Rings Books out of Waterstones right this second.

The necessity of escapist literature was captured perfectly by Charlotte Ahlin in a Bustle article, she said:

"We need books that ground us in the unvarnished reality of our present, and books that explore the more horrific moments of our past. We need dystopias to warn us and poetry to challenge us. And we need escapist fiction to give us a freaking break".

To engage in any kind of escapist material is not the same as being oblivious to the world around you. Ultimately escapism is a form of self-help, self-care, and coping. It allows you to momentarily disengage from your problems, to have a break and prevent yourself from becoming emotionally exhausted.

Escapism vs avoidance


It is important to acknowledge that an over-indulgence of escapism may be seen as more akin to avoidance of your problems. I am not recommending one avoids the things that trouble them, rather provide themselves with a healthy space where they can distance themselves in preparation for dealing with the outside world.

My personal escape


You only need to be in a room with me for about 10 minutes to know I have a fucking huge slight obsession with all things Moomin, so please bare with me while I reference it 100 more times in this post, but I genuinely believe they make a great example for what I'm talking about.

Jansson originally created the Moomins towards the end of World War II, as a means to escape the monstrosities of life at the time. These characters became one of Finland's most beloved creations, and their duty as a beautiful way to escape remained exactly that. They did not become politicised, and while plots certainly contained deeper meanings, they were never directed at a specific situation or opinion from their time of writing. Though Jannson was criticised for this, the Moomins being described by the New Left as “middle-class escapism” and “illusory security”, her continuation of the Moomins fantastical stories is exactly what makes them so timeless. 

(Youtuber Caribou-kun has a remarkable video on what exactly makes the Moomins, both the books and tv adaptions, such an enjoyable piece of escapism, which I have linked here.)

Spending an evening reading about the adventures of Moomintroll as he traverses the Lonely Mountains with his friends in order to witness a comet passing Moomin valley* is not so much "running away from my problems", rather providing myself the calm and quietude to be able to process life's difficulties better in the future. Yes, I am running away to a fictional land for a few hours, but that is not the same as living in it! I truly believe if we do not stop the running tap of reality every now and again, we are bound to flood our minds with stress and anxiety. 

So if you do nothing else in the lines of self-care this week, please just pick up a book, not to learn, not to critique, just simply to enjoy.

Hope you enjoyed my word vomit, take care x

 *book: Comet in Moominland


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